Saturday, 1 November 2008

Green Dragon etc

Well it's a pretty place. Richard Hogwart of The Guardian writes of it, saying:

There are joys to cling to. The other day, going to visit my own parents, I stopped in the market town of Wymondham, Norfolk, three miles from their care home. A friend of mine lives in the town, which is lovely. There are winding old streets, a market cross, and the superb Wymondham Abbey, which was started in the 12th century and is staffed exclusively by very nice people.

Bill Bryson lives nearby, and he could live anywhere at all. We had lunch in the Green Dragon pub. It was one of those sunny but freezing days, so the wood-fired stove in the snug was quite as welcome as the real ale.

It is true. There are five pubs near us in Wymondham. The Green Dragon above - the nearest - is the Hobbiton model. Tiny. You practically have to sit in the fire rather than near it. Elsewhere we have the Agatha Christie model and the American Werewolf in Norfolk model.

As for Mr Bryson, we once sat next to him at the local Thai, so he is around.

On Friday and Saturday nights the young hang around doorways and the market cross with little to do. The Kurdish kebab shop does good trade at that time. Every so often a boy racer rips down the street at sixty. The Chinese takeaway is pure Edward Hopper. Two chippies. We are a mixed population, local, indigenous and poor, plus middle-class, educated and commuting. A few bohos, probably including us. The full pastoral. The Dog Beneath the Skin 2008.


Cracow and Frankfurt seem like a dream now. Cracow feels very clear but Frankfurt is a set of locations in light rain. This is the Herbert poem I chiefly talked about in Cracow, suggesting that when it first appeared in England we were all Hamlets requiring a Fortinbras to bury us.

Elegy of Fortinbras
for C.M.

Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier’s funeral without having been a soldier
the only ritual I am acquainted with a little
there will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums drums I know nothing exquisite those will be my manoeuvres before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a narrow chair
with a view of the ant-hill and the clock’s dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince

(translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz)


The argument modulated from here into one about Herbert's mystical dry-eyed stoicism regarding stones, pebbles, chairs and other inanimate objects. I may put up bits of the paper here.


Anonymous said...

The word choices of Milosz and Scott are so particular and wonderful that one doesn't feel that one is "looking at a tapestry from the back" and, as such interesting translations can do, the translation makes one also wish to have a great command of the language of the original.

Are there any other translations of this that you've had recommended to you?

Gwil W said...

Can't find your Uncle Gabriel. Not drowning his sorrows in the pub by any chance?
Cluj 1 - Bordeaux 2

George S said...

Uncle Gabriel? Sulks in his castle. Brings down the coffin lid and sulks.

Gwil W said...

Better set the alarm then. The Romans will soon coming!
By the way after the relative success of my poetry book, winning small press individual collection of the year title and so on, I have been wondering what to write next. Possibly even a change of genre.
This morning I was raking some fallen leaves when a woman walked by. She looked aggrieved. Even bitter. I tuned-in to overhear a piece of her mobile phone chitchat. It went something like this:
"...Florida...99% Jewish...99% Jewish....Florida...the father is Kenyan...the mother is a Jew..."
So now I have it. My next book will be titled something like 'An Austrian Mentality' An exposé no less. Ole´!